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Abby Dahlkemper: USWNT vs. Vietnam showed ‘evolution of women’s soccer’

Vietnamese players collide with USWNT forward Alex Morgan during the group-stage match on July 22. (SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team won its 2023 World Cup opener 3-0 against Vietnam, a far cry from its 13-0 victory against Thailand to kick off the 2019 tournament.

For 2019 World Cup champion Abby Dahlkemper, though, the narrower margin of victory should not be a knock on the USWNT but rather a sign of the growth of the women’s game.

Vietnam proved “a little bit tougher than people expected,” noted Dahlkemper. The 30-year-old defender is missing the World Cup with a back injury, but she still is following the team, and she shared her thoughts with USWNT teammate Midge Purce and sports broadcaster Katie Nolan on the the second episode of Just Women’s Sports’ World Cup show “The 91st.”

“I thought their goalkeeper came up multiple times with pretty good saves,” Dahlkemper said, while defensively Vietnam was “pretty structured and disciplined.”

Still, getting a few goals on the scoresheet and having Alyssa Naeher get a clean sheet under her belt helps with momentum as the USWNT prepares to face the Netherlands at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, she said.

And while some pundits compared Vietnam to Thailand ahead of the World Cup opener, Vietnam is a different team and women’s soccer is in a much different place than in 2019.

The latter point has been underscored in several group-stage games so far. France tied 0-0 with Jamaica. England eked out a 1-0 win against Haiti. Sweden needed a last-minute winner against South Africa.

“I think, just as a whole, you can see even from the beginning of this tournament just the evolution of women’s soccer,” Dahlkemper said. “Every country is getting better, and they’re investing in women, some of them. But these countries like Vietnam came in and did really well and put up a good fight.”

Players from up-and-coming contenders also are making splashes in the club scene. Jamaica’s Khadija Shaw plays for Manchester City in England’s Women’s Super League, and Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala is a star for Barcelona.

“When we played Thailand, I’m not sure many of them even had teams to play on or were playing professionally,” Dahlkemper continued. “So I think that’s a huge thing as well, just to be able to get regular games in.”

Teams such as the Philippines, which is the first from its country to reach the World Cup, have elicited joyous fan reactions. And New Zealand secured its first World Cup win in history in front of a record crowd on home soil.

“It’s exciting to see the evolution of the women’s game, and it’s growing,” Dahlkemper said. “Even an upset, Norway losing to New Zealand in the opening game, it’s exciting to see.”